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Global warming skeptics base arguments on rhetoric, not facts

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Brittany
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« on: September 22, 2008, 03:16:07 pm »

Global warming skeptics base arguments on rhetoric, not facts

By Dr. David Schindler


November 19, 2004 - Terence Corcoran of the National Post expresses disdain for a recent report from the International Arctic Science Committee warning of rising temperatures in the Arctic region. But such warnings are not new. Scientists in the United States and Europe have been saying much the same thing for years. And many of their findings have been published in the world's premier peer-reviewed journals.

These journals earn their reputation by publishing papers that challenge established dogmas. That there is such a scarcity of published peer-reviewed research supporting the views of warming skeptics speaks volumes.

Critics such as Mr. Corcoran base their case on conspiracy theories and rhetoric, not science. (Martin Agerup, praised by Mr. Corcoran as having shown that the science behind climate warming is “fatally flawed,” is not a scientist, but an economist.) Their claims are largely confined to in-house reports and websites.
Scientists typically don’t bother with this sort of thing – but it seems to fascinate business reporters, oil company executives and others who, for their ideological and commercial reasons, seek to discredit mainstream scientific views on global warming.

One need not be a scientist to understand the basis of the debate. Any thinking layman can judge for himself much of the evidence that the world is getting hotter. Several agencies in different countries have measured the thickness of polar ice caps, the extent of northern sea ice and the length of alpine glaciers. For example, the website of the U.S. National Ocean and Atmosphere Organization shows a decline in Arctic sea ice of about 10 per cent in the past 30 years.

The data clearly shows that ice and snow are disappearing at high latitudes. This, in turn, will cause an acceleration in the already pronounced Arctic warming trend because dark landscapes absorb more sunlight than white ones, a fact known to anyone who has placed his hand on white and black cars sitting side by side in the sun.

There are also several decades worth of temperature measurements available from many high-latitude sites. Again, these data are available to the public. Almost without exception, they show increasing temperatures. In the Western part of the Canadian Arctic, some sites have warmed by as much as four degrees Celsius during the 20th century.

As for the plight of the polar bears in the face of disappearing sea ice – which Mr. Corcoran suggests is a propaganda trick – the data are convincing. Ian Stirling, a colleague of mine at the University of Alberta, has studied the behaviour and ecology of polar bears for more than 30 years. His work is documented in countless publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and he was recently awarded the Order of Canada for his body of work.

Anyone who believes that several thousand scientists are engaged in a global conspiracy to prove the existence of a non-existent global warming phenomenon does not properly understand the culture of science. For the most part, scientists earn their reputations by showing that other scientists are wrong, not by agreeing with them. But to persuade other scientists, one must have proof. Unlike politics or journalism, science is not a profession where unsubstantiated opinions go far. Grant money, promotions and awards for scientists are achieved by making fresh discoveries.

Obtaining consensus among scientist on any topic is difficult. That such a consensus has emerged in the area of global warming is a testament to the overwhelming nature of the available data. This consensus is that (a) the Earth is warming rapidly; (b) that the most important cause of warming in recent decades has been human emission of greenhouse gases; and (c) that the warming will continue, disrupting both ecosystems and human society. Most also agree that arresting or reversing this trend will mean weaning ourselves off petroleum.

The debate over global warming is in one sense a debate about who the public and policymakers should believe. The most reliable predictions about the climate come from climatologists, meteorologists, geologists, physicists and others whose profession is to study the scientific state of the world around us. Like the other journalists, big-oil shills, economists and anti-environmental activists who seek to discredit global-warming science, Mr. Corcoran should stick to his area of expertise – in his case, business. Leave the predictions concerning the Earth’s climate to those who know what they’re doing.

David W. Schindler is the Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta. This article originally appeared in the Nov. 18, 2004 edition of the National Post.

Related links – internal

The U of A Department of Biological Sciences website:
http://www.biology.ualberta.ca
David Schindler’s U of A webpage:
http://www.biology.ualberta.ca/faculty/david_schindler/index.php

Related links –external

The National Post online:
http://www.canada.com/national/nationalpost/index.html
The International Arctic Science Committee webpage:
http://www.iasc.no/
The U.S. National Ocean and Atmosphere Organization Arctic data webpage:
http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/data.html

http://www.expressnews.ualberta.ca/article.cfm?id=6209
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